My Paris Trip: A Meal-by-Meal Recap

 My Paris Trip: A Meal-by-Meal Recap

I just returned from a week in Paris with my good friend Brian Hill who has two great restaurants in Camden, Maine: Francine Bistro and Shepherd’s Pie. If you are ever in the neighborhood I suggest you stop by and see him.

Brian and I worked and lived together a long time ago when we were both coming up, and have a similar sense of food and humor which makes him a great traveling companion. He had never been to Paris, so the restaurant reservations were left up to me. I consulted everyone I knew who had been recently, and it took several weeks to piece all the reservations together, with the help from a French friend to make the calls.

Here is a list of the places we visited.

Monday Lunch: Chez George, 1 Rue du Mail

I have visited this restaurant every time I have been to Paris (I think this is my 4th trip). It’s old school, tiny and hard to find on the Rue du Mail. I understood it had gone through a change of hands since my last visit, which made me a bit nervous. But not to fret, it was the same old place with a few of the same old grumpy ladies as servers and the food was better than my last visit. We were starving, so we ordered heavy off the appetizer menu—rillette with great bread, smoked herring in oil with potato salad and frisee aux lardon—and it was fantastic all around, especially the herring…smoky with a perfectly made potato salad. Probably due to the guilt of our appetizers, I stuck with a grilled turbot for my entrée, which was perfect. Brian took a chance and ordered andouillette, a smelly tripe sausage, which was a bit too funky for me. This was a great first meal in Paris.

Monday Dinner: Pinxo, 9 Rue d’Alger

I don’t want to talk much about it…it was one of the biggest disappointments of the trip, from the service to the food.

Tuesday Lunch: Chez L’Ami Jean, 27 Rue Malar

Wow! A funky little spot I had heard a lot about, and one of the new “bistronomic” spots. It has an open kitchen with an intense chef yelling at everyone. The place was packed. The food was great, but super rich, and everything he does includes meat. The squid appetizer had bone marrow and short rib; the octopus had headcheese; the pintade had a terrine of delicious braised beef neck; and our pork was, of course, a cocotte of different fatty cuts. The dessert was the best rice pudding on the planet. I have a friend that ate here recently twice in a row! (A better man than me.)

Tuesday Dinner: Fish La Boissonnerie, 69 Rue du Seine

A recommendation from my good friend Jonathan Waxman, this is a very simple fish restaurant with a great and reasonable wine list. The food was simple and light…just what we needed after that lunch.

Wednesday Lunch: L’Arpege, 84 Rue de Varenne

This was one of my most anticipated meals. Alain Passard is the Michelin three-starred chef that put meat on the back burner and concentrated on vegetables – a very unusual thing for a French chef to do, especially at the top of his game. I had heard fantastic things about the lunch garden menu, especially when he is present which he was and he greeted us upon entering the restaurant. Unfortunately the experience did not live up to our expectations. There were some obvious culinary oversights, service glitches, etc. I have since spoken to a friend who dines there regularly and he assures me it was an anomaly and wants me to dine there with him next time I’m in Paris. We all have our bad days, but at three stars and for the expense, our expectations should be high.

Wednesday Dinner: Passage 53, 53 Passage de Panoramas

Recommended by a friend, I was unsure what to expect. This is a tough restaurant to find so start out early…if you know where Racine’s is, it’s a few shops up. The dining room seats 20 and they serve only a tasting menu with no choices. The food was really good, very clean with excellent technique, simple and deep flavors, with many plays on two flavors: squid and cauliflower, artichoke and truffle, chicken and salsify. The service was excellent. This is definitely a place I recommend and will also go back. The kitchen is on the second floor up a staircase that is so tight if you weigh more than 200 pounds you may want to reconsider.

Thursday: The Sportsman, Whitsable England

This was my other highly anticipated meal. This is a restaurant (pub) on the coast of England; yes we traveled 3+ hours each way to eat here. This is one of those places that would not exist without one guy’s vision. It’s in the middle of fields, a stone’s throw from the ocean, with a very rustic setting and décor, but stellar food. Steven makes everything, from his own butter and salt, to ham, bread, etc. He only buys whole animals off the local farms and grows much of his produces himself. He also does a lot with the local seaweeds. Unless you pre-order the tasting menu (we did), his menu is on a blackboard and you have to stop on your way to the table to make your decision…and you better hurry because as things run out they start erasing the blackboard. This was a meal that both Brian and I really enjoyed and I will remember for a long time.

Friday Dinner: Restaurant Saturne, 17 Rue Notre Dame de Victoires

This is one of the newer restaurants in Paris and getting a lot of buzz. Very sparse but a cool design—they use the bread cutting area as a still life and have one the most beautiful stand-up Berkel meat slicers I have ever seen in a dining room. Almost every table has sliced ham to start. We opted for the larger of the two tasting menus at six courses (at 59 Euros, a great deal). What set this meal apart was the lightness and purity of flavor. Again a chef that is playing with two or three flavors at the most on each plate, and he uses very little dairy product so the ingredients taste very much of themselves. We splurged and added a service of shaved Comte with black truffles as a cheese course to celebrate our last and one of our better meals in Paris. This place specializes in “natural” wines; they have a lot of biodynamic offerings which in theory I like, but you really need to take your past wine perceptions and throw them out the window. We ordered a white from the Loire that was aged four years in oak. It was yellow and oxidized but still had acid. It change several times during our meal, was interesting and not bad with the food, but I don’t think I could drink it again.

Places we visited in between meals:

  • E. Dehillerin, 18 Rue Coquilliere—one of the best cookware stores on the planet; if you want to lug copper pans back on the plane this is where to get them
  • Poilan Bakery, 8 Rue du Cherche Midi
  • Pierre Herme, 52 Rue Bonaparte
  • Fauchon (of course)